Words by John Williams, Photos by Trevor Jue
Typically, I don’t advocate for planning things at the last possible second. But sometimes exceptions need to be made. And sometimes, the best adventures can spring up at the last second. I was visiting family in Southern California for a few weeks for Christmas, trading the cold and wet New England winter for sunshine and (relative) warmth. Out of the blue, I called up an old friend, Trevor, who now lived in Los Angeles, and suggested we take a few days to travel up to Bishop to boulder after the holidays. I lived in New England, which meant that I hadn’t seen so much as a dry pebble for months. We agreed that this trip was just about getting outside and not about climbing hard, something that both of us were in no shape to do coming off the holiday season. I had never been to Bishop, but I had seen pictures. Big boulders with the even bigger Sierra Nevada mountains towering over them danced through my mind as we planned. We threw together the details. We would drive up from Los Angeles to climb at the Happy/Sad boulders and the world famous Buttermilks. We only had few days before both of us had to return to real life, so we decided to try and get in as much climbing as humanly possible.
Roughly 20 hours after that call, we threw a few backpacks, a crashpad, and a cooler into Trevor’s car. A few hours later, we were cruising up US highway 395. After a few hours of empty desert (those of you that have driven up the 395 know what I’m talking about), the massive snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains began to appear in our windshield. After attempting to gawk/take pictures and drive at the same time, we decided that the more reasonable (and far safer) move was to pull the car over. We leapt out, and began to shout, jump and snap pictures, ecstatic at the sight of the mountains. We were close now! We drove the last couple of hours to our campsite, and decided to use the last few hours of daylight to get a few climbs in. We raced to the Happy/Sad boulders, bouncing down the dirt road to the boulders. We had finally arrived!
We nearly ran up the approach trail, excited to stretch our legs out and finally start climbing. We planned to head to the Celestial boulder, and hop on a few easy problems to warm up and get mentally ready for some Bishop highballs. One of the downsides of life in New England was that I had been climbing in a gym since the winter started, and my mental game was lacking (to say the least). First, we hopped on the problem Celestial Trail. While I like to think I can handle most V0s, the mental challenge of highballs was new to me, and I carefully edged my way up, the slabby moves at the top forcing me to make every move very deliberate. I relished in the mental focus it required, and slowly tied the moves together, eventually topping out. I stood atop the boulder, taking in the view of the surrounding and stoked on the climbing. We did a few more problems, but we were quickly losing the light. We started our return hike to the car, stopping to talk to other climbers and scramble up and down trailside boulders, laughing and joking, pumped to be outside. We stopped right before the parking lot and scrambled up a boulder to catch the end of the sunset as the sun fell behind the Sierras. We had a beautiful view down the Owens River Valley, as the silhouette of the Sierras looked down on us. After an eventful night in the camp kitchen (the stove ran out of fuel and high winds made using the campfire…exciting) we crashed out, exhausted but excited.
The next morning, we crawled out of our sleeping bags to an ice cold sunrise. After some breakfast, we loaded into the car and took off for the Buttermilks. We drove through Bishop (stopping to buy stove fuel to make tonight’s dinner a little simpler) and headed toward the boulders. Our drive quickly put us in the Sierra’s shadow, and as we turned onto Buttermilk road, our entire windshield was the snow-covered flanks of the Eastern Sierras, towering over the boulders. After a suitable amount of staring and stopping for pictures, we made it to the Buttermilks and started bouldering. We did some warm-up problems, eventually heading over to Hero Roof. A big group was there, and we all climbed together, talking over beta and working the problems in the area. One of the greatest things about bouldering, in my opinion, is the ability to meet new people and talk to them as you all work problems together. Unlike roped climbing, no one is a pitch apart, and it’s easy to sit and chat with people to pass the time. Hero Roof was a standout problem, with a really fun move to get over the roof. I won’t spoil anyone’s onsight with beta, but I will say that your height makes a big difference. Me and Trevor, who have about a 7-inch height difference, took very different approaches to this problem. After climbing for a while, we scrambled up to the top of a nearby boulder pile, taking in the view of the Sierras. We climbed all day, and then drove down to Schat’s bakery (a Bishop staple) for some food. Despite having planned this at the last possible second, and only having a few days to climb, it was a great trip. While we certainly didn’t climb anything particularly difficult, this trip reminded me that you really can’t put a price on a chance to get outside with a friend, meet some new people, and climb some good rocks.